For months, fans have speculated as to who the teen sensation #Zendaya could be playing in #SpiderManHomecoming! Although it's seemingly official that the character's name is Michelle, many fans have insisted that this is a red herring, and that she's playing a totally different part. The most controversial suggestion was that she was actually Mary-Jane Watson, Spider-Man's most famous love interest.
The rumors started with The Wrap, whose sources told them Zendaya was playing MJ. Fans reacted as though this was official confirmation, and in truth the race-swap caused real controversy. The irony? #Marvel never confirmed that it. Finally, this week, Zendaya told The Hollywood Reporter:
"My character is not romantic. My character is like very dry, awkward, intellectual and because she’s so smart, she just feels like she doesn’t need to talk to people, like, 'My brain is so far ahead of you that you’re just not really on my level.' So she comes off very weird. But to me, she is very cool because she’s deep. She’s always thinking about something, always reading."
Let's be clear: this sounds very, very different to party girl Mary-Jane Watson, so we can safely dismiss The Wrap's rumor. In fact, Zendaya went so far as to admit that the furore has been nowhere near the truth.
"People are going to react over anything. But nothing [about my role] is fact. It’s like, you guys are just making s#^t up at this point and then reacting to it. Whenever we were on set, one of us gets some random character name, [bloggers were] like, ‘Oh they must be so and so.’ And we just crack up about it, because it’s like, ‘Whatever you want to think. You’ll find out.’ It’s funny to watch the guessing game.”
So we can dismiss Mary-Jane. But - assuming she's not playing a brand new, original character - who is Zendaya playing?
1. Michele Gonzalez
The only 'Michele' who's been connected to Spider-Man, Michele Gonzalez was Peter Parker's roommate - and a lot more besides. The two had a drunken one-night-stand, but the relationship became a lot more serious - unfortunately for Michelle, at a time when Peter Parker was being impersonated by the Chameleon!
There's no way #Marvel is going to run anything remotely like this story (not least because Tom Holland's underage, and the Michele Gonzalez of the comics was a late-twenties-early-thirties criminal defence lawyer). What may stick, though, is that the character became involved in #SpiderMan's life when her brother, a police officer, was found to be trying to frame Spider-Man for crimes. There's a possibility that this reinvented Michele will be a Gwen-type role; a love interest with ties to the police force.
2. Ava Ayala, the White Tiger
A popular fan-theory is that the "Michelle" identity is a cover-up for Ava Ayala, the White Tiger. Ava Ayala is one of Marvel's 'Legacy Heroes', inheritor of a mystic amulet that grants superhuman abilities. The character's had some cool ties to Spider-Man in the past, not least through appearances in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series.
I'm not so sure Marvel would introduce a brand-new superhero in Spider-Man: Homecoming - not least a character whose future role wouldn't easily fit into the current build-up to Avengers: Infinity War. It's possible that they'll go with the Hellcat approach; Rachael Taylor's playing Trish Walker in Jessica Jones, but the character hasn't yet turned into Hellcat.
The fan speculation is, in my view, what makes this idea unlikely. If Marvel had teased that Zendaya was playing Ava Ayala, then the internet would be ablaze with speculation over whether or not she'd become the White Tiger in Spider-Man: Homecoming. I think Marvel would have played things that way to get the fans talking about White Tiger, rather than playing the red herring of 'Michelle'.
3. Gwen Stacy
Of course, it's entirely possible that the red herring has been used purely to hide which prominent love interest we're about to see recreated on the big screen. We've already seen Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane, and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy (which you can recall in the trailer for The Amazing Spiderman below); is it possible that Zendaya will be playing a reinvention of one of Peter's iconic high school sweethearts? The most popular fan-theory is that she's the #MCU Gwen Stacy.
Again, I have to say that I doubt it. From the very birth of the MCU, Marvel has seemed committed to avoiding repetition. The Incredible Hulk skipped the origin story that had already been presented in Hulk, and Marvel has ensured we don't get a retread of Spider-Man's origin. Incorporating Gwen Stacy into the MCU like this would put Marvel on a very definite course, because every comic book fan would be expecting her death.
4. Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat
If 'Michelle' is a cover for anyone, there's always the possibility of Felicia Hardy - the Black Cat. Daughter of a famous jewel thief, the wealthy Felicia grew up training as a cat-burglar herself. Given the number of superheroes who have a bookish secret identity (Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter springs to mind), it would be quite fun to have Peter and Felicia be schoolfriends who are unwittingly fighting it out!
Black Cat treads a dangerous line between good and evil; right now she's a supervillain and crime boss, but often she's been Spider-Man's trusted ally. Until the events of "One More Day," she was one of the few people Peter trusted with his secret identity.
Interestingly enough, Spider-Man: Homecoming seems to be taking the lead from the aborted Sam Raimi project Spider-Man 4, which featured the Vulture as the main villain but included a rogues' gallery of minor supervillains. The Shocker, who looks set to be in Spider-Man: Homecoming, was one of these. Importantly, Black Cat was planned to appear as well.
It's possible that this version of Black Cat could be partly based on an alternate-universe version seen in last year's Spider-Gwen #5. That issue showed a Felicia Hardy who's becoming very much a 'teen sensation' herself, with her singing career giving her an excuse for an extravagant lifestyle.
So there you have it; the possible characters played by teen sensation Zendaya! The evidence is building that Zendaya will indeed play Mary-Jane Watson, but time will tell whether those rumors are right! Who do you think she's playing?
Sources: Marvel Comics, Flickr